Thursday, July 31, 2008

Cellists in the news

These UK cellists (articles here and here) give new meaning to "scaling the heights" of cello playing. I would definitely take the Luis and Clark carbon fiber cello were I to follow their footsteps!

And here's a nice tribute to Eugena Slezak, retiring from Concordia College. "She made us laugh, she made us cry, she made us proud to play cello. Ms. Slezak was probably the best teacher I had. She was tough and that’s part of what made her great. I learned much more than cello skills from her." What more could any teacher want to hear from her (or his) students?

First recital with the Pallotta

Had my first recital with the restored Pallotta (pics in recent posts) last night. I'd really practiced my rear end off for this, and it went quite well overall. Russell Wagner, who did the restoration work, came to the recital, and it meant a lot to have him there.

[Update: rereading this, I see I forgot to mention that the cello sounds fantastic, and carried marvelously in the hall. Pallotta is a little-known maker, and we don't know for sure if the label is genuine or not. But that's not such a bad thing. For a player, as opposed to an investor, the best fortune is to find an incredible-sounding instrument that, for reasons like this, is affordable. If I could spend millions of dollars, it would be a different matter. But that might be what it would take to get a better-sounding cello.]

For some crazy reason, I programmed the Schubert "Arpeggione" sonata. This is one of the most awkward pieces in the cello repertoire. It was composed for a "guitar cello" with six strings, and much of it is, well, less than idiomatic for the cello. As "Zambo," an LA Phil cellist who is a regular poster at Cello Chat recently wrote, "The Schubert is one of those pieces that I periodically swear never to play again, then, forgetting the good reasons for the decision, drag out again." I never forgot the reasons that prompted me to swear off it, about 20 years ago. Nevertheless, I decided to do it this summer as a stretch. The vast majority of it went very well; a few passages had a finger slip or two. For my first performance of it in 20 years, it was pretty good. Still, I have newfound appreciation for something my former student Kevin Bate mentioned to me on the phone earlier in the week. "I read that some famous French cellist said that the Arpeggione is a piece one should learn but never perform."

The Arvo Pärt "Spiegel im Spiegel," which opened the concert, and the Chopin sonata, which concluded the concert, both went well. Only that darned double-stop passage in the Finale of the Chopin gave me problems. There really is no good fingering for it, and I'd experimented with too many fingerings, and changed the one I was going to do the day before the concert, so it was a bit out of tune. Drat!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

More pics of the restored Pallottaa

Last night, I started posting pics of my restored 1790 Pietro Pallotta cello. Photographing instruments is difficult! Last night I took some indoors with a flash; this morning outside in the sun (very briefly in the sun, I must say!). Clicking on the pics expands them so you can see more detail.

Neck: old and new

Russell and I discussed the advantages and disadvantages of replacing the neck, which was original. An original neck is usually something worth preserving, but it had some cracks, gouges in the side, and had been grafted into a new block rather unartfully. We finally decided that it would be healthier with a new neck, and that this was the time to do it. He carved the new neck himself (I'll post pictures of that soon). The graft of the original scroll onto the new neck is amazing; it's virtually impossible to spot.

Two shots of the old neck:

And the new neck:

C string side detail, before and after

Lower a-string bout, before and after

Daylight (outdoor) shots: top

Some outdoor shots of the top of the restored cello (before pics are below).

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Pallotta is back!

About a week and a half ago, I picked up my 1790 Pietro Pallotta cello from Russell Wagner, perhaps the most highly regarded cello restorer in the United States.

In the spring of 2005, the cello, which my parents purchased in 1980 from Hary Duffy Violins in Coral Gables, developed a bass bar crack, running nearly the entire length of the top. After consulting with a number of colleagues and dealers, I settled on Russell to do what was at first going to be just some repair work. We ended up deciding to have redo all the previous repairs, many of which had been done quite crudely. (In the photo is he is working on removing old glue.)

I'll be posting more photos soon, including ones of the restoration process (meanwhile, there are some great restoration-process photos on Russell's site). For now, a few before and after shots are in the posts below, the before shot on the right. Click on the photos to see expanded versions with more detail.

The lighting conditions were quite different--the before shots were taken in Russell's shop with natural light and no flash (if I remember correctly); the after shots were just taken in my living room, with a flash. I wanted to get a few up tonight because I just saw that there's a story on the DePauw website about my first concert reunited with the instrument, on Wednesday night here in Greencastle. I'll work on getting some natural-light shots up soon.

Base of top

Top, upper half

You can see the amazing work Russell did with redoing the patch.

Top, full view

Two articles worth reading

This is the best single article I've ever read on the ordeal of searching for an instrument, the challenges of determining an old instrument's authenticity, the strange world of instrument pricing, and what an instrument means to a player. I wish Brinton much luck. (via Cello Chat)

And this essay by Roger Ebert is a poignant look at a late-career professional transition, and (as he looks back at his relationship with Gene Siskel) captures beautifully how a true friendship can include exasperation as well as love. The best relationships exist in a context of a love so big it can encomapss every emotion.